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Giving Presentations to Senior Managers
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Giving Presentations to Senior Managers

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Project Managers who are new to presenting to senior and executive management are often unprepared for the experience. The purpose of this presentation is to help project managers work with their own …

Project Managers who are new to presenting to senior and executive management are often unprepared for the experience. The purpose of this presentation is to help project managers work with their own managers to: appreciate the perspective of senior management; prepare well; and engage effectively with this audience.


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  • 1. To o ls f o r P ro j ect M a nag ers Dean Briggs December, 2009 1
  • 2. Contents • Why are senior management presentations requested? • What’s the difference between presenting to senior management or to one’s boss? • Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation – Understand the purpose of the meeting – Working with your boss – What to prepare – How to rehearse – It’s Showtime! • After the presentation 2
  • 3. Why are senior management project presentations requested? Because: • The more senior (than your boss) manager: wants to learn about your project • … wants to become acquainted with their subordinate’s staff • … wants to evaluate their own subordinates’ performance based on the work of that person’s employees • There is a problem with the project — it is late, it is over budget, other managers are complaining, or the customers are complaining • It is a high-profile project, and it is visible at high levels in the organization • Some other reason—that you should attempt to learn, if you do not know 3
  • 4. What’s the difference between a senior manager presentation, and presenting to your boss? • The attendee(s) can be difficult to read— take your cues from your manager • You and your manager may or may not know the senior manager’s agenda • If you are presenting to a very senior manager, there may be intervening (between your boss and the most senior person) levels of management attending • Particularly in large organizations, senior people are exposed to a much broader range of organizational challenges than lower- level (and more specialized) staff, and they interact with people and situations that may be remote from your daily experience. – This may result in questions that come in from “left field” 4
  • 5. What’s the difference between a senior manager presentation, and presenting to your boss—2 • The senior manager may not have all of the background on your project – Unfamiliar areas may include: specialized terms; detailed understanding of business processes; familiarity with software or technologies, roles, or people – Limit how much background you need to supply in order to tell your story • Your area of concern may only be a tiny part of the senior manager’s scope; they may face a daily barrage of status reports, and hence, may have a short attention span. – Keep it brief and use simple, declarative sentences – Pause from time to time to allow questions and interruptions — that will help to maintain attendees’ attention 5
  • 6. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—1 Understand the purpose of the meeting, as best you can — is the meeting: • A routine presentation (from the senior manager’s standpoint)? There are no “routine” presentations to senior management, from the perspective of the lower level employee – Make sure that you have all of your facts; that project plans, timelines, budgets, risk matrices and other working documents are up to date; and you have brought copies of more detailed documents or slides as “hold-backs”, and can them hand out, if needed, to answer more detailed questions. – Plan to provide status for all major project deliverables, and dates when they will be complete. – Be forthright about project timeline slips, the reasons for those slips, and your mitigation plans for getting them back on track. It is better to be a project manager wrestling with a difficult situation openly, than to present a rosy scenario and have it blow back on you later – Make sure that you are aware of any recent changes in your organization that may affect your project, and that you are prepared to address those changes either in your presentation, or during Q & A, if asked 6
  • 7. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—2 — is the meeting: • An opportunity to “get to know” you? – The best way to handle this is to stay focused on the project and what the team is doing, rather than on who you are. Your work—and that of the team—should do the talking. • Because there is a problem with the project? – Present your project status forthrightly. Be prepared to discuss risks and issues. – Be willing to admit errors that you made along the way. – Avoid blaming project problems on other people. If you need to explain others’ behavior, make sure that you provide a rationale for why they behaved the way they did. – Provide mitigation strategies for how you will deal with the project issues that have arisen – If you are thinking strategically, you will be prepared with requests to make of the senior manager; how he or she can help you address certain risks 7
  • 8. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—3 Working with your boss • Find out: – The stated reason for the presentation—as well as any hidden agendas – What advice your boss has about how to present to the senior manager • Are there any topics that you should defer to him or her? – Whether there are other people at your level who have presented well to the senior manager: • can you get a copy of their presentation; • can you talk with them about how they presented; • can you review your presentation with them? 8
  • 9. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—4 Working with your boss • Plan on advance presentations not only to your boss, but to the levels between them and the most-senior attendee at the presentation – These intermediate managers may wish to review and critique your deck before they hear the presentation – Make sure you have adequate time to prepare and obtain any needed pre-reviews and pre-presentations • If, for example, you are in an IT department and your client is in a business department, you should discuss with your boss whether your client should attend; or at least, should be informed that this presentation will be taking place. – You may wish to capture any comments that your client would like you to pass along in this presentation: their satisfaction, concerns, areas in which they would like the senior manager to help. Sometimes, they can provide talking points that are better coming from them than from you. 9
  • 10. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—5 What to prepare • Background on the project; why it is necessary from a business context: who requested it, business value, funding source • Important topics to address – Project objectives – Project methods – Project risks and issues, and mitigation strategy – High-level view of your project plan (see Appendix) – Project budget: estimated and actuals by month, and variances Footnotes with reasons for variances – Time to completion — on track, delayed? – Changes in resources? – Risk register, including mitigations – Current status of client relationships/satisfaction • Bring a set of project deliverables (e.g., Project Charter) as “leave- behinds” 10
  • 11. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—6 How to rehearse • Rough out your presentation, then ask your manager, to review the deck. Ask: – Are the essential points made? Where could the presentation be improved? What works well? – Are there too many slides? Too many words per slide? – Is there enough background for someone not closely involved with your project ? – Is there enough variety? Not just bulleted text; also flowcharts, graphs, (simple) tables? • Rehearse out loud in an empty conference room. If you will be projecting the presentation, practice with a projector. 11
  • 12. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—7 How to rehearse • Try out your presentation with a colleague who is a good presenter—preferably, someone not closely involved with the project. Incorporate her/his feedback. • In the days leading up to the presentation: – Give a rehearsal presentation to your manager and colleagues for feedback. – Tune the presentation – Practice your presentation at home – Try to work without your notes, speaking directly to the slides, if that is possible. This will give a more natural quality to your presentation NOTE: this deck is detailed because it is intended to be read, not presented. Your slides should be far less detailed—perhaps 15-25% of the words here. 12
  • 13. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—8 It’s Showtime — • Keep it brief. Expect to: – be interrupted frequently – start late—if you have to, how can you take an hour’s presentation and make your points in 15 minutes? – end early—to what slides would you go, to capture the essential points? What are the two or three (only!) points that you must make for your presentation to be successful? Don’t plan for the Best-Case Scenario — senior manager on time, attentive, receptive Plan for the Worst-Case • Think about the main points of your presentation — the “story” that you must tell in order to make your points successfully • Is there a client anecdote that perfectly crystallizes the nature of the working relationship, or the project challenges? 13
  • 14. Preparing for a Senior Management Presentation—9 It’s Showtime — • Stick to your script —no tangents or long stories, no matter how great it’s going—you will regret it • Be self-aware. If you are scared or excited, take a deep breath and let it out slowly before starting. • Monitor your pace, so you don’t talk too fast. Insert pauses, so that others can ask questions or comment. Keep track of where you are, so you can return after an audience question or comment • After making a complex explanation, ask if there are any questions before moving on • Projects are a team effort; if your project is praised by senior management, you are the rare team member who gets to bask in the sun This is an opportunity to thank the complimenter and praise the team in general—or a couple of specific individuals who are especially critical to the project’s success 14
  • 15. Fielding Questions • Keep it brief – Make sure you understand the question, then – answer it simply and directly • If you don’t understand the question, it’s ok to ask: – “Could you please be more specific?”, or, – “I can think of several possibilities; could you give me a concrete example?” • Don’t guess!! Senior managers get to that level in an organization by being discerning. This is an opportunity to establish your honesty. If you don’t know, say, “I don’t know; but I will find out, and get back to you”. • If the question is outside your area of responsibility, you should say, “That’s not an area I’m familiar with. If you’d like, can find out who has the answer and ask them to get back to you”. • Don’t make critical comments about others’ work, even if solicited by a questioner 15
  • 16. After the Presentation • Email to attendees any documents that have been requested • Correct any factual errors that were made during the presentation — those can come back to bite you • Answer any questions that you were not able to answer in the meeting • Review any communications ‘up’ with your direct supervisor before communicating with presentation attendee(s). • Make sure you copy your boss when you send, as well as anyone else in the middle levels between your boss and your senior audience • Elicit feedback from attendees, so you can do better next time 16
  • 17. I welcome your feedback • Please send any comments to: dpbriggs (at) MIT (dot) edu 17

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